By Sherwin Dane Haro
Never underestimate an activist’s heart, especially when they’re as tenacious of a humanist as Angelica “Angie” Driskell. If you’ve been following Humanist Alliance Philippines, International (HAPI) for the past few years, you might know her as the HAPI Auditor, a member of the Board of Trustees, the HAPI Jr. Ambassador, and the organization’s resident coffee expert. Driskell makes all of it look easy, juggling her leadership duties on top of being a single mother of three, her day job as a freelance English instructor, and her regular co-hosting duty on the Godless Longganisa podcast.
But of course, as many perfectionists will tell you, making things “look easy” actually takes a tremendous amount of skill, grit, and fortitude… and as it happens, Driskell possesses all of those in spades.
I managed to take her aside for an interview just a week after the Duyan Online Pajama Party, her most recent project as HAPI Jr. Ambassador. (HAPI Jr. is the “kids’ arm” of HAPI that focuses on children’s health and education and aims to guide them towards critical thinking and self-sufficiency at a young age.)
Driskell had the supreme luck of being named HAPI Jr. Ambassador right after the imposition of the Extended Community Quarantine in Metro Manila last year; as a result, her first few projects, including the Health is Wealth initiative, were difficult to implement. “Until now, I have difficulty planning activities for the children because they are not allowed to be out and about,” Driskell said. “I also want to respect the guidelines and protocol of each jurisdiction. This is, and will be, the biggest obstacle for me and HAPI Jr.”
She promises that we can expect more events from HAPI Jr. soon but for everyone’s safety, these will have to be limited to online activities and projects that require the kids to document their cooking experiences or report about the progress of the plants they are growing.
“I look forward to spending more time getting to know the kids better and understanding what they are going through, especially since these lockdowns have stressed them out more than we, the adults, realize,” Driskell emphasized. “All I can do is remind them that they are not forgotten and that they have to take good care of themselves always.”
Despite HAPI Jr.’s setbacks, Driskell has managed to keep herself busy with other HAPI work during the pandemic, most recently visiting the HAPI-Zambales crew with Chief Finance Officer (and fellow atheist mama) Mutya Valenzuela. It has become one of her duties as a HAPI Executive Council member: becoming the boots on the ground even as the country’s persistent quarantine makes it difficult to do consistently.
Don’t poke the mama bear
Last December 2020, Driskell and Valenzuela were guest speakers for HAPI’s online Café Humaniste: E-Numan – Secular Parenting and Coming Out event, in which they shared their stories as atheist moms. The casual strength (and good humor) of both ladies were a sight to behold, but it was hard not to get incensed as they talked about the hostility they face as non-religious parents in a predominantly Catholic country like the Philippines. Driskell shared a little bit more about that injustice with me: “My family often tells me how awesome my kids are but always follow up with ‘It must be because you raised them in the Philippines‘ or ‘I am surprised since you don’t go to church‘,” she said. “I suck it up and push that negativity aside because I know that my children are badass and help others without me having to remind them to do so.”
“Since I come from a very religious family, their grandmother and other relatives still encourage them to attend mass or other religious activities,” Driskell continued. “I, however, sit on the sidelines and remind them that they have the freedom to choose. They can go to church if they feel like it, or they can stay at home and twiddle their thumbs instead.”
Holistically, I found that Driskell’s parenting style really isn’t that complicated or different from most “traditional” religious upbringings: everything she teaches her girls is grounded in basic humanism. The “god worship” aspect just happens to be optional. “I have always taught them about tolerance and acceptance with or without religion,” Driskell said. “For the parents who may be struggling, you can’t let the nasty comments get to you. You are here to raise decent human beings, not breed more sheep that follow blindly.”
An agnostic’s path…
Driskell herself grew up Catholic in the United States but turned agnostic not long after moving to the Philippines. She recalled her disappointment after first seeing how masses are held in the country. “I was speechless,” she said. “The hypocrisy was so obvious and it just seemed like nothing more than attendance to the majority of those who ‘worship’. No soul, no passion, no sincerity; just going through the motions so you can feel better about being a crappy individual the previous week.”
She then summarized her agnosticism with the brutal honesty of someone who has had enough with said hypocrisy. “I do not believe that salvation is earned or bought by attending a service,” Driskell stated. “We are not here on this planet to puff our resumés for the pearly gates. We are here to get through it all together and to help others along the way.”
…led to the activist road
Before finding her way into HAPI two years ago, Driskell began her activist journey as the head of Share Your Sparkle, a holiday gift-giving initiative for bullied kids that she started with her best friend, Grace. They had only managed to organize two gift-giving events before Grace sadly passed away.
Share Your Sparkle obviously qualifies as activist work, but Driskell admits that she didn’t realize that until recently. Part of that is because of her basic instinct to help as many people as she could; since it is her in her nature, she never really thought to call it “activism”. But it’s also partly because Driskell had never been a volunteer for any official organization before. “Once I saw what HAPI was about and all of the different advocacies here, I knew I was home,” she said.
So sure, she stumbled on activism by “accident”. But the altruistic drive that Driskell shares with other humanist activists was truthfully already there early on in her life: “I grew up surrounded by so many different cultures and I had friends from all different walks of life. I grew up exposed to bomb threats at school because we were next to a military base, gang violence, teenage pregnancies, racism, and recreational drug use, among other things,” she recalled. “I don’t think that it was any specific experience that made me want to be an activist but I know that those experiences and what I witnessed made me want to make a difference.”
When I asked Driskell what’s next on her wild journey, she praised me for the good question and then cracked a coffee joke (because of course she would). But then finally, she delivered a mini life mantra. “Whenever I find myself tired and feeling like I just need to breathe, I allow myself that break but remember that there are so many people that depend on me or need my help,” she said. “I often see someone who needs a helping hand and I just can’t stop myself from reaching out. It is just who I am and I don’t think it will, or should, change. The only inspiration I need is knowing that the person I helped is back on their feet or is at least headed in that direction.” If that isn’t an activist’s creed, I don’t know what is!